Friday, November 23, 2007

The Demonization of Childbearing?

I've always thought postmaterial ideology to be somewhat odd, while nevertheless explicable. This essay on women who refuse to have babies for environmental reasons confirms my suspicions (via Memeorandum):

Had Toni Vernelli gone ahead with her pregnancy ten years ago, she would know at first hand what it is like to cradle her own baby, to have a pair of innocent eyes gazing up at her with unconditional love, to feel a little hand slipping into hers - and a voice calling her Mummy.

But the very thought makes her shudder with horror.

Because when Toni terminated her pregnancy, she did so in the firm belief she was helping to save the planet.

Incredibly, so determined was she that the terrible "mistake" of pregnancy should never happen again, that she begged the doctor who performed the abortion to sterilise her at the same time.

He refused, but Toni - who works for an environmental charity - "relentlessly hunted down a doctor who would perform the irreversible surgery.

Finally, eight years ago, Toni got her way.

At the age of 27 this young woman at the height of her reproductive years was sterilised to "protect the planet".

Incredibly, instead of mourning the loss of a family that never was, her boyfriend (now husband) presented her with a congratulations card.

While some might think it strange to celebrate the reversal of nature and denial of motherhood, Toni relishes her decision with an almost religious zeal.

"Having children is selfish. It's all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet," says Toni, 35.

"Every person who is born uses more food, more water, more land, more fossil fuels, more trees and produces more rubbish, more pollution, more greenhouse gases, and adds to the problem of over-population."
This is a woman whose husband had a vasectomy at twenty-five (after she couldn't find an abortion) to satisfy a desire to "save the planet." The couple later divorced (no surprise there, with no babies to worry about).

The article goes on:

But Toni is far from alone.

When Sarah Irving, 31, was a teenager she sat down and wrote a wish-list for the future.

Most young girls dream of marriage and babies. But Sarah dreamed of helping the environment - and as she agonised over the perils of climate change, the loss of animal species and destruction of wilderness, she came to the extraordinary decision never to have a child.

"I realised then that a baby would pollute the planet - and that never having a child was the most environmentally friendly thing I could do."
The growth of postmaterialist ideology is a well-studied phenomenon in the political science literature. According to Ronald Inglehart, following World War II, as the Western industrialized democracies recovered from material hardship and deprivation, many in the younger generations coming of age rejected the societal ethos of materialistic consumption in favor of more progressive views on environmentalism and the support for non-traditional values.

The decisions cited here, of the women to denounce childbearing as a threat to the survival of the world, is explicable according to this paradigm. Still, these views could be seen as representing the ideological demonization of childbearing. Without all those kids in tow, suburban moms won't need those big, carbon-busting SUVs!

Interestingly, Toni Vernelli, whose story begins the article, suggests that she and her circle of friends would rather adopt children than procreate. Certainly there are many children in need of loving homes, so that's an admirable sentiment. Maybe Third World countries will one day develop export markets in adoptable infants to meet
the demographic crises of postmodern societies today facing baby shortages.